Over the last 40-plus years, Detroit has seen its economy falter and its population dwindle, leaving thousands of homes empty and starting a downward spiral of neighborhood decay. In this episode, join host Brian Babylon as he digs into how Loveland Technologies has used city support and funding from JPMorgan Chase to build an innovative crowdsourcing platform to help heal Detroit’s neighborhoods.
The views and opinions expressed by the participants of this panel are those of the individuals speaking and do not reflect the views and opinions of JPMorgan Chase & Co. or its affiliates. The material contained herein is intended as a general market and economic commentary, in no way constitutes J.P. Morgan research and should not be treated as such. Further, the information and any views contained herein may differ from that contained in J.P. Morgan research reports.
Chicago-bred, LA-based, and frequently airport-bound, standup comedian (Inside Amy Schumer) and radio vet (The Moth) Brian Babylon brings his years of performing across the country to three sponsored episodes.
Darnell Adams is the Director of Inventory for the Detroit Land Bank, which is leading the city’s anti-blight initiative.
Rukiya Colvin is a native Detroiter who became a recent homeowner with help from the Detroit Land Bank.
Jerry Paffendorf is the CEO and Co-Founder of LOVELAND, which works to gather and present information about property in Detroit.
Tosha Tabron is the Vice President and Relationship Manager for JPMorgan Chase Global Philanthropy.
The following is a paid podcast from JPMorgan Chase. This special message from JPMorgan Chase highlights its work in communities around the country.
RC: there was a big hole in the wall when you first come in in the living room the floors looked terrible, these are hardwood floors, they looked very bad. the kitchen had nothing in it it was just no counters. It had like some very old school wallpaper...
Brian: It’s a familiar story, the decline of Rust Belt. Buffalo, Cleveland, Akron, Detroit. All once-great manufacturing cities worn down by de- industrialization and wage stagnation. Cities pockmarked by abandoned factories, overgrown lots and run down houses - skeletons of the boomtowns they once were.
This kind of urban decay is called “blight.” Kind of like agricultural disease that wiped out Ireland’s potato crop in the 1840s. And like the potato famine, urban blight compounds on itself, pushing out residents and businesses and discouraging new investment. It’s like an inside-out stranglehold, where cities grow weaker and people take flight as neighborhood after neighborhood falls into a state of disrepair.
I’m Brian Babylon, host of three paid episodes of Placemakers from JPMorgan Chase. In these episodes, I’m taking you to a few different cities to investigate game-changing revitalization projects spearheaded by JPMorgan Chase.
To kick it off, we’re headed to the Detroit, where the city has been working hard to get back on its feet after bankruptcy in 2013.
Urban blight has slowly wrapped its fingers around Rust Belt cities for decades. … decay, depopulation… it’s a story we’ve heard. It’s horrifying magazine covers we’ve all seen. But what’s being done to fight it?
JP: We had this amazing meeting where we sat down at this humongous table whole bunch of heads of local foundations and neighborhood groups and a bunch of mysterious people from the U.S. treasury and all these White House representatives- very intimidating. And they were like “Okay hotshots, you seem good at parcel mapping.”
Brian: That’s Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder and CEO of LOVELAND technologies. He’s a guy who saw the empty office buildings and the decaying homes, but instead of looking the other way, he went to work to do something about it.
JP: And there was kind of a moment of silence and there was like people whispered is that possible to do and we very confidently said yes of course it's possible to do and of course at the time we'd never done anything like it before.
Brian: Jerry is charting new territory in the fight against blight. He and his team at LOVELAND Technologies has put every single house, apartment, park, yard, office and empty lot in Detroit on the map. With funding from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, LOVELAND has revolutionized accessibility to real estate data that helps the government AND everyday citizens heal the city of Detroit.
Today we’re gonna dig into how Jerry and his team have been able to kick start this healing process.
In 2009, Jerry moved from the fertile lands of Silicon Valley to the not-so-fertile city of Detroit. ...
JP: Working and living in Detroit you see a lot of things in the landscape that make you wonder how could you get permission to fix them, or build on them, or clean them, or do something with them. And it turns out the way you figure out how to do those things is to understand information about individual parcels of property.
Brian: Parcels. Parcels lie at the center of Jerry’s work and are how LOVELAND and its partners, piece by piece, are reshaping the city. But these aren’t your typical brown paper parcels that you might get in the mail. I’m going to let Jerry explain what they are:
JP: If you think about it, around every house that you see or store you see is sort of an invisible outline, usually a square or rectangle but sometimes funkier shapes, that define the subdivision that somebody owns and that the government provides services for and that is taxed and there are a lot of permissions about what you can and can't do there.
Brian: Parcels are the units of land ownership that divide up every city and town in the US. Looking at this patchwork quilt is how Jerry and his team started to approach the blight problem.
JP: All of that information is public record information but it typically exists on paper in filing cabinets or on sort of older computers where every department that knows something different is separated from each other and it's never been brought together before into one kind of comprehensive picture of-- how have we subdivided the world, how have we subdivided cities, who owns everything, where are people living? And then particularly in Detroit, we started looking at where are there problems that can be addressed.
As a company we're trying to build x-ray glasses to see that kind of invisible quilt of ownership and land use and then we're trying to take that information in those x-ray glasses and then put them onto the faces of people who might be able to do something with it.
Brian: So we have the Detroit, the main headline in the story of Rust Belt decline, and its overwhelming blight. Blight that you can see at every turn… but no one has taken the time to launch a full-scale attack against this blight, let alone to collect information on it and we have Jerry, a tech guy who had the vision to collect that information, parcel by parcel, and enable city leaders to do something about it.
Leaders like Darnell Adams, Director of Inventory at the Detroit Land Bank Authority.
DA: The Land Bank has been around for quite some time, but with the new administration under Mayor Mike Duggan, he decided to use this Land Bank as a real tool to help combat blight in the city.
Brian: The Land Bank is a city government organization that is responsible for keeping track of, maintaining, and disposing of all city-owned properties.
DA: I saw this organization sort of sprout up in 2014 and I said 'Oh, I need to be a part of that program because I-- I would love to be a part of the transformation of the city.
Brian: By the time Darnell started working at the Land Bank, it had over 90,000 properties in its inventory. About two thirds of that came from tax foreclosures. And the rest the city had been holding onto for as long as 15 years.
DA: Right now we're being reactive to you know 50 or 60 years’ worth of, loss to the city. And so we're reacting, sort of a crises management reaction, to the status of Detroit.
Brian: On the one hand, Darnell and his team at the Land Bank were buried in paperwork on 90,000 properties that they need to sell or demolish. And on the other hand, Jerry and his team had this brilliant vision to map the entire parcel grid of Detroit. They started to get to work on these humongous projects, but they were both going at it solo, and both were getting pretty low on funding.
Enter JPMorgan Chase.
TT: JPMorgan Chase has been doing business in the city of Detroit for over 80 years. We noticed that a lot of the cities that we've done work in, and had a corporate responsibility presence in, has seen a renaissance, have seen some redevelopment and growth. We hadn't seen that renaissance really happen here and we wanted to make sure that we as a corporate citizen, as a long time investor and presence in the city, helped it to accelerate its growth and grow faster after the bankruptcy.
Brian: That’s Tosha Tabron, Philanthropy Manager at the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. A lifelong Detroit resident, she had seen the demise of her hometown firsthand. Since joining JPMorgan Chase, Tosha has been at the forefront of its revitalization efforts.
TT: What we do here in the city is initiate and move forward a commitment that we put in place May of 2014 of 100 million dollars to the revitalization of the city. One thing I think the DLBA has been in lockstep with JPMorgan Chase on is making sure they incorporate the resident voice. So the programs they put in place have been in response to what they heard city residents say they need. So we need products that help respond to the fact that we have housing that is in distress and in disrepair, so can you help us figure out ways to obtain the property at a low cost, and then allow us opportunities to reach capital so that we can, you know, work on our homes?
So in 2012, we launched this major platform for Detroit Future City, and we talked about what neighborhoods could look like in the next 50 years in the city of Detroit. And then right behind that we had our Detroit task force go in to look at a blight strategy for the city.
Brian: The task force was set, but JPMorgan Chase needed a star player to come in and get things moving… someone like Jerry Paffendorf at Loveland.
JP: We got a knock on our door from a blight elimination task force, like you know you guys seem to be pretty good at your parcel mapping, you’ve a lot of information about properties, what would you do to help Detroit get on top of its blight and vacancy problem?
And we sort of you know huddled and whispered and we said well everybody knows there's a lot of blight and stuff to fix but nobody knows how much and where and nobody's built a system for updated.
Brian: Unsure how they were going to do it, but armed with the backing of supportive funders and a strong belief that they COULD do it, Jerry and his team set out to create the platform that this powerful group of people envisioned. They called the project Motor City Mapping.
JP: we were brought on to help convene a citywide property survey hiring Detroiters to visit nearly 400,000 parcels of property in Detroit. and in the snowiest winter in Detroit history we hired 200 Detroiters to visit these properties and they used a mobile application that we built now it's called the LOVELAND app but at the time we called it blexting which was a darkly humorous term for blight plus texting. people used blexting to see which parcels had not yet been visited and you would touch a parcel, look at it, take a picture, and then tap through a series of questions.
BB: This project was huge.
JP: … the project at the time had very much a feeling of like NASA or something like that. You know it had kinda like a moon- landing feel. mission controls, was of course, we had to call the room that we were working out of. We had these big, beautiful dashboards where the surveyors were blue dots kind of cruising around the city, and all the photography was streaming in a live, like twitter firehose feed. Although rather than tweets, it was the descriptions and the imagery of every property in the city.
BB: What happened next was that the parcel map went from having just the outlines of properties and zones, to having real, usable information.
JP: and 200 people in the course of about 40 workdays were able to visit all 400, thousand some properties and parcel by parcel a picture of the city emerged that had never been seen before.
JP: what emerged from that picture, which was the first picture of Detroit from space as far as occupancy conditions goes was that they found between and 60,000 vacant buildings -- just a tremendous number of vacant 50 buildings, in addition to other indicators of blight -- dumping and kind of the world of blight indicators.
Brian: In less than two months, Jerry and his blexting force were able to collect information about, and visually map, 400,000 properties in Detroit. Motor City Mapping became a booming success. Here’s Darnell Adams, Director of Inventory at the Detroit Land Bank Authority.
DA: Motor City Mapping has been probably one of the greatest tools that the Land Bank has used to help combat blight. The Motor City Mapping Project, they went out and blexted -- my team uses this information to look at some of the inventory. One key thing that we use it for-- is for assessments. One thing we also use it for is to help our constituents as they come in, they're looking for a property, they can't really remember the address, we help them go through Motor City Mapping by going down the streets, looking at all the different parcels, and then we identify the home and there's the image right there, and so it's been this amazing tool that has allowed for the public to easily access and get things done The other thing that my team uses MCM for, we, on the public side, we drive neighborhoods and we update the condition status of those particular blocks, of those particular neighborhoods with the blexting app. All of that information that lives in Motor City Mapping feeds directly into our database back here at the Land Bank every night. So it pushes a new image, pushes new conditions. And we're consistently using MCM to update the statuses of our Land Bank inventory.
Brian: Armed with this new tool, Darnell and his team at the Land Bank have been able to keep their inventory up-to-date like never before. And by making this inventory public, for all types of property-seekers, the Land Bank has been able to efficiently get properties into responsible, enthusiastic hands.
DA: We've had such a great spectrum of people purchasing property throughout the city. We've had people from the suburbs move in, we've had people from Texas, from Brooklyn, from California, from England -- it's so cool, you know, it's really cool watching Detroit's diversity sort of emerge. We have a wall of a lot of our-purchasers sitting here at the Land Bank and you can just see the families, the couples, some investors, but people are just so excited to get their hands on these homes and it's been a very inspiring journey for the Land Bank so far.
Brian: Tosha Tabron, Philanthropy Manager at the JPMorgan Chase Foundation explains why it’s helpful for residents...
TT: It allowed residents to provide data on homes that they had been managing and maintaining in their neighborhoods over the last five years or ten years, as they been resident investors for these homes and these properties in their neighborhoods. They now can actually provide data and real time resources to the Land Bank on what's going on with those properties. So they're able to make strategic decisions about the dollars that are very scarce on eliminating blight in these neighborhoods. And now you have residents being able to activate what they know about their neighborhoods through the Motor City Mapping Program.
Brian: Remember the woman from the beginning?
RC: there was a big hole in the wall when you first come in in the living room the floors looked terrible, these are hardwood floors, they looked very bad. the kitchen had nothing in it it was just no counters, it had some very old-school wallpaper...
Brian: That’s Rukiya Colvin, a Detroit native who bought a house through - you guessed it - the Land Bank. She discovered one of properties that Motor City Mapping had collected information on, she fell in love, and then bid on it. And through a lending program at a local bank, she got a loan and renovated the house.
RC: The neighborhood is called east English village and I’ve always loved the houses over here like they're just really so pretty they have the really old school design to it, so I figured I might as well take advantage and get one of these houses.
The house was built in 1930 so it has a lot of the very old school style architecture like it has those cathedral-type windows in the front, I love those. And then some of the plaster in the living room and dining room is very old-school like. I love it.
Brian: These days, things are looking up for her once-shabby home.
RC: It’s really nice. I’m just working on getting the other rooms painted. Working on the backyard cuz right now it's just a bunch of grass, but I want to get a really nice patio back there and a garden, everything started.
I love it. I still try to soak it in sometimes that I have a house now, especially because I lived in apartments every year since college started. It’s a great feeling. I have a list of projects and I just love it.
Brian: And it’s not just the house. The neighborhood’s changing, too.
RC: There’s a really good neighborhood watch everyone looks out for each other. There’s newsletters that go out every month to everyone's doorstep. We have a fitness park that was just added. We even have garden clubs-- just everything.
Brian: From abandoned homes and lots to garden clubs, the city of Detroit is tackling blight, parcel by parcel, block by block… thanks, in large part to Loveland, Motor City Mapping, and the donors that made it all possible.
Here’s Jerry Paffendorf, CEO of LOVELAND technologies:
JP: it's really become an indispensable tool for the Land Bank and the Detroit Building Authority and neighborhood groups across the city who are trying to keep track of and strategize around working and healing properties. I think heal is the right word in a lot of cases in Detroit, they really do need to be healed.
The funding from Chase has been amazing in kind of creating a data commons, where those multiple parties I talked about about - the city, investors, neighborhood groups, researchers, nonprofits - all benefit and it amplifies the work that each of those parties is doing already so without the kind of funding Chase has given here then a transformative project like this just doesn't exist because nobody else is going to pay for it to happen.
Brian: Seeing the huge impact this kind of philanthropy can have in places like Detroit, JPMorgan Chase has started to help LOVELAND bring its platform to other Rust Belt cities.
JP: one of the really cool things about that is as we've gotten to know the team better and they've seen the success and the results that we've had in town--- both from like, I don’t want to call it nerdy, but it is what it is. Both from like the nerdy, like the pure data side, but also how a project like this engages both the residents and city employees in a way that's not nerdy at all, that's like sort of magic. They've been very interested in helping replicate the model in other cities and places around the country. And, so we've been fortunate that after Detroit we're actually just about to start doing a similar project in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
Our vision is really to kind of turn the lights on across America as far as who owns everything, how is everything being used, where are there problems to be solved and then, how can we plan and build and conserve better than we have before
Brian: LOVELAND has changed how the city of Detroit looked at, and dealt with, its pervasive blight. And it’s clear their work has only just begun.
I’m Brian Babylon, and this has been a paid episode of Placemakers from JPMorgan Chase. Subscribe to Placemakers wherever you get your podcasts, and head to jpmorganchase.com to learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s corporate responsibility program.
Next time, I will be down South on the streets - well, a street - in one of my favorite cities in America: New Orleans. I’ll be hanging out on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, a site where philanthropy, commerce, and culture have mixed together to turn a downtrodden thoroughfare back into a bustling neighborhood center.
This paid episode of Placemakers from JPMorgan Chase was produced by Panoply Custom Studios. Our theme music was written and performed by Robin Hilton, and a very special thanks to Tosha Tabron, Jerry Paffendorf, Darnell Adams, and Rukiya Colvin.
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